Alberta should look more closely at the number of wild horses in the foothills because they are damaging the environment, a forestry company says.
Sundre Forest Products plants about five million seedlings a year and an unknown number are damaged by grazing horses, said spokesman Tom Daniels.
"Anecdotally, just from what we see out there, we know horses are browsing the tops of our seedlings," he said.
The horses are also a potential traffic hazard, as well as a problem for employees, he added.
"We've had staff threatened by a horse while they were out working in the field."
Sundre Forest Products, a division of West Fraser Mills Ltd., has a 20-year lease on more than 650,000 hectares in the area.
Logging does more damage: horse advocate
Bob Henderson, a spokesman for the Wild Horses Society of Alberta, said forest companies are far harder on the environment than horses.
"They're not being very good stewards," Henderson said. "You've got to go out there and see the damage they're doing to the environment, and the changing of the whole ecosystem out there. The biodiversity is probably changed forever."
The land belongs to Albertans, not the shareholders of forestry companies, he said.
"The arguments they use against the horses — that they are trampling the new seedlings or eating the tops of new seedlings — are completely unscientific and false," he said.
His organization believes the wild horse population is closer to 500 than 1,000, which was the estimate in a March survey by the Alberta government.
Provincial biologists call the horses feral rather than wild. They don't consider them true wildlife because they're descendants of domestic horses used in logging and mining operations in the early 1900s.
Police are investigating the deaths of more than 22 horses in the area since 2007. There is still a $25,000 reward for information about the shootings.